Happy Monday, lovelies. I never mention the day of the week in my posts, but it’s that kind of day when I acknowledge the newness another week brings. It’s another opportunity to wake up and grind it out. To chase our dreams and realize them all. I have this kind of life where I’m extremely blessed to do most of what I love. It’s not 100% ideal, but it’s pretty close. I had moments this past weekend where the sunrays rested on my cheeks as I watched one of my brothers zoom by in a tight 30-minute closed circuit cycling race. It was during a split second of being his cheerleader, I realized how truly blessed I am to do what I’m passionate about: to travel, to soak in world cultures, to eat great food (and decide I don’t like others), to meet inspiring people, and ultimately to share my findings with you and my friends.
A recent trip to California’s ag country planted me at Sunsweet’s headquarters where I was lucky enough to chat with the CEO, visit with a co-op grower and eat great meals, all created around dried plums. That trip is now part of my journey in becoming more educated to make better life decisions. I deeply appreciate when a brand respects and values my work and voice. So going to Yuba City, California was a delightful treat.
My supersonic haul across the country (yes, I was only there 36 hours, having spent more time on the plane), started with a private dinner at Ella Dining Room, a fine restaurant spearheaded by chef and owner Randall Selland. A fancy farm-to-table concept lended us a fantastic ambiance, dishing out 5 courses of delicious pairing with prunes. Our first course kind of blew my mind: a beef tartare set in a garlic popover and topped with mixed chicories, plum vinegar, bleu cheese and walnuts. Spectacular. I never have shame when on these trip, and indulge fully to my heart’s complete contentment…. so when dessert came out, an insanely rich but emotionally pacifying salted caramel chocolate tart, I went in for the kill, devouring mine. That wasn’t enough, surely. I snuck in a conversation with the server asking him for additional salted caramel simply to spoon eat. But it didn’t stop there either. I ate the rest of my new fashionable friend, Susnweet spokesperson and all around fabulous fashionista, Dawn Jackson Blatner dessert.
Simple pleasures are what make life so blessed.
(Clockwise: Prune breakfast; Orchard tree line; Dessert at Ella’s Dining Room; Beef Tartare at Ella’s Dining Room; All via my Instagram)
Dinner wiped me out, naturally.
Pruned-out breakfast CEO, Dane Lance, an ultra laid back and kind man, started our full day of “classroom” and field activities. He and prune growerJoe Turkovich, along with the global VP of sales and marketing, entertained our questions and educated us on the process and importance of consuming dried plums over other dried fruits. Other experts expanded on the extremely high nutritional value of prunes, ranging from regulation sugar levels to outdoing potassium levels in bananas for hearth health.
Did you know prunes are the best thing, in fruit land, for bone health? High levels of vitamin K, potassium, copper, and boron are present in the wrinkly fruit and have proven to improve our bone structure. They’re still exploring numbers, but for now, we can say prunes do more for us than offer bowel movement!
(Breakfast at Sunsweet HQs with CEO, Global VP of Sales and Marketing, researchers and nutritionists)
We’re big Sunsweet fans in our house… mostly prunes, but occasionally dried apricots will creep in. It was especially nice to go into the plant and see the logistics of pitting, sorting, packaging, etc… A tour of the facility exposed us to their business environment. I tasted super hot prunes off the press, both pitted and super shrunken ones which were crazy good. As we were golf-carted around, our drive was kind enough to stop and grab a Costco-branded bag for me. Oh, because that’s how they do. They collaborate with major distributors like Costco to package and sell their dried fruits.
Logistics intrige me as much as cooking so I was really invested in how it all works.
(Factory tour; Hot off the press prunes)
The conversations at the plant took us to Turkovich Farms to see first hand how prunes are grown and harvested. Joe, standing astute and tall indulged us further with important facts. But first, I was in love with his grounds. Very intimate, not very commercial or overwhelming, suggesting he’s very much in control of everything that happens. His is the largest orchard of all the growers. The lush trees, still bearing signs of winter and a painful valley drought, I was stood still and absorbed nature’s beauty. The surrounding trees captivated me, causing me to miss a bit of his lesson. But when I did catch back up with the group….
I’m of the philosophy that the more you know about where your food comes from, the better and healthier decisions you can make about your diet and overall lifestyle. Asking questions is key. Doing research is important.
I’ve done a good amount of farm visits and one thing is continuous: farmers want to talk; they want to share their story and their passion for tending to the land and producing quality foods with integrity; they’re eager for consumers to know what we’re eating and how it came to our tables.
(Turkovich Farm & Plum Orchard)
Sunsweet, primarily providing prunes, whose harvest is short, from mid-August to first weeks of September, is a relatively small co-op of over 300 growers throughout California’s central valley. Joe explained everything from the great advantage California has for agriculture to the different growing methods and techniques he uses in comparison to other growers. He doesn’t just nurture the soil. He’s studied and the science of soil fertility, soil microbes, plant and insect interactions, all which affect the harvest.
(Clockwise: Joe Turkovich; Plum blossom; Orchard view)
(A most lovely plum orchard tree line)
After 30 minutes of standing in drizzling rain we muddled through the fields to enjoy a dried plum-themed al fresco lunch.
Quinoa salad with prunes, apricots, celery, and other seasonal goodies made it to the plate. Turkey sliders with plum glaze made several appearances on my plate. And to finish, prune brownies, which I passed on because, well, I had a 13-hour travel day back later just hours later.
But I left the muddy and cloud-covered farm convinced, that with moderation, I could happily replace the raisins typically used in our most classic Cuban and Latin dishes, like my beloved picadillo, my famed pollo en fricassée, and empanadas, with prunes or a combination of their new ‘Amazins’ (more on those later). I welcome anything untraditional as long as it serves a healthy purpose. In this case, much less sugar and way more fiber.
Live a healthier life, live a good life!
Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.